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A New Exhibition at the McCord Museum Examines
he Masculine Ideal from Head to Toe!

Montreal, 15 May 2002 — This spring and summer the McCord will celebrate the well-dressed man with the much-anticipated exhibition Clothes Make the MAN, developed by guest curator Gail Cariou, the McCord's Curator of Costume and Textiles Cynthia Cooper, and Curatorial Assistant Eileen Stack.

Women's clothing tends to dominate museum collections, and up to now there have been very few exhibitions devoted solely to the subject of men's fashion. Clothes Make the MAN goes beyond the evolution of garments and styles to explore the diverse factors that have influenced men's clothing choices across three centuries. It debunks the myth that practicality is the main influence on men's clothing and shows how even small changes reflect broad shifts in cultural ideals.

"Men" and "fashion" are usually considered mutually exclusive terms in Western society. Social taboos against men's interest in clothing that first appeared in the 19th century have blinded us to the enduring male enthusiasm for fashionable apparel. Despite society's intermittent unease with the notion of the "fashionable man," men have persevered in their pursuit of a stylish image. Men's clothing, no less than women's, is subject to cycles of fashion that reflect changing cultural, economic and political environments, as well as evolving perceptions of masculinity and femininity. Like women, men use clothing for personal display or to identify with their peers. And like women, men follow the unwritten rules of the fashion game.

                    — Introductory text, Clothes Make the MAN

An Exhibit Tailor-Made for the Well-Dressed Man  

Masculinity — The Clothes that Make the Ideal Man
Evolving ideals of masculinity have been reflected in changing styles of men's clothing. Masculinity identifies six masculine ideals through their respective styles of dress. Featured garments include a lavishly embroidered 18th-century silk waistcoat, an austere, mid-19th-century wool frock coat and a faultlessly tailored 20th-century Savile Row suit.

Vanity, thy Name is...Man?
Men have always used fashion to attract attention and satisfy a desire for personal display. Just as women do, men use clothing to enhance, adorn and modify their bodies. However, because too great a preoccupation with personal appearance may be interpreted as vain and unmanly, men's interest in fashion is often discreetly restrained. Vanity explores men's venture into clothing overtly designed for aesthetic satisfaction, and features eye-catching waistcoats and evening apparel as well as garments strategically constructed with padded chests or corseted waists.

Propriety — Jacket and Tie Required
The rules of social propriety govern what men "should" or "shouldn't" wear. These rules reinforce social status and preserve distinctions between public and private spaces. Propriety explores the influence of 19th-century dress etiquette on men's fashion choices, from morning suits to evening tailcoats. It also contrasts the public and private clothing of a fashionable man. Artifacts selected for this zone include silk top hats and a 1940s tie hand-painted with a topless Hawaiian dancer, illustrating that men have both followed and flouted the rules of good behaviour.

Fraternity — One of the Boys
Uniforms and ceremonial dress have tended to play a dual role in the history of men's fashion. Not only do they propose the most obvious of dress codes — preserving social distinctions, reinforcing hierarchy and group membership — some uniforms also provide men with socially acceptable opportunities for overt fashionable display. Fraternity examines the social and aesthetic appeal of uniforms and ceremonial dress with such examples as a Papal Zouave uniform, a Dress Windsor uniform, and a Canadian Pacific Hotel Doorman's coat. This zone also explores the creation of "uniforms" that might signal unofficial fraternal membership, such as the businessman's grey flannel suit and the street punk's studded leather motorcycle jacket.

Production — Manufacturing the "Look"
In order to achieve the fashionable masculine ideal, men have turned to a variety of sources for advice and supply regarding their clothing. The tailor, the factory worker, the shopkeeper, and devoted women at home have all contributed to creating the ideal man. Among the artifacts used to explore the theme of Production are the 19th-century record books of the Montreal tailoring firm Gibb & Co., factory-made shirts still wrapped in their original paper labels, and smoking caps deftly embroidered by dedicated homemakers.

Exposure — Not in Public, Please!
While vanity may spur personal display, social inhibitions tend to rein it in. Changing notions of modesty, vulgarity and sexuality have aroused debate over how much of a man's body may be acceptably displayed in public. Exposure presents the evolution of the trouser fly and bathing suit as examples of change and resistance in men's fashion and cultural norms.

Sportswear — From the Athletic Field to the Ballroom
Sportswear has played an important role in the development of men's fashion, both borrowing from and contributing to mainstream dress styles. This exhibition zone explores the crossover between athletic clothing and men's fashion, and examines the importance of the sports hero to the popularisation of athletic wear. Featured garments include an early 20th-century Montreal Hunt Club evening coat, yellow polyester tennis trousers from the 1970s, and a Montreal Canadiens hockey sweater worn by Guy Lafleur in the 1984-85 season.

Gender — Who Wears the Pants?
A key function of menswear has been to act as a gendering device that constructs masculinity and distinguishes men from women. Though the "dress" of masculinity is continuously redefined, taboos against men's cross-gender dressing remain strong. Gender examines the history of Western dress practices that distinguish male from female, and explores instances of socially sanctioned cross-gender dressing. This zone is illustrated with 19th-century children's clothing, women's "tailor-made" suits, and a man's full Scottish Highland dress.

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Nike Langevin
(514) 398-7100, ext. 251

The McCord wishes to thank the Museums Assistance Program, Heritage Canada for its generous support.